Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda

Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda (c. 1536 – after 1575, dates uncertain) was a Spanish shipwreck survivor who lived among the Indians of Florida for 17 years. His ca. 1575 memoir, Memoria de las cosas y costa y indios de la Florida, is one of the most valuable contemporary accounts of American Indian life from that period. The manuscript can be found in the General Archive of the Indies.[1] In all, he produced five documents describing the peoples of native Florida.[2]

Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda
Diedafter 1575


Fontaneda was the second son of Garcia de Escalante and Ana de Aldana. His father was a Spanish official in South America. Fontaneda was born in either Peru or Colombia, around 1536. In 1549, when Fontaneda was thirteen, he and his brother were sailing to Spain, to study in Salamanca, when their ship wrecked on the coast of Florida. The surviving crew and passengers were captured by the Calusa, who enslaved them and eventually sacrificed most of them, including Fontaneda's brother.[3] Fontaneda apparently escaped death by correctly interpreting their commands to sing and dance for them. He spent the next seventeen years living among the Calusa and other tribes, learning several languages and travelling extensively through Florida. Around 1566 Fontaneda was rescued from his captivity by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida's first Spanish governor and founder of St. Augustine, who bargained for Fontaneda's freedom from the chief of the Calusa, who was called King Carlos by the Spanish. An alternate claim is that Fontaneda was rescued by the Huguenots of Fort Caroline in 1565, and reunited with the Spanish when they took over the fort. He served as an interpreter and guide for Menéndez on a number of missions for the next several years, and returned to Spain in 1569 to reclaim his parents' property from the Crown. In 1575 he wrote his memoir, which proved valuable to historians of the day such as Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, and remains so today.

Besides the memoir (memoria), which is eight folios long, a memorandum, a list of caciques, and two fragments of text attributed to Fontaneda, each of one folio, have been identified.[4]

Fontaneda provides the city of Tampa's earliest written mention. He names 22 important villages of the Calusa, the first being "Tanpa". He gives no details concerning the exact location of Tanpa, but archaeologist Jerald Milanich places the Calusa village of Tanpa at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, the original "Bay of Tanpa". A later Spanish expedition did not notice Charlotte Harbor while sailing north along the west coast of Florida and assumed that the current Tampa Bay was the bay they sought. The name was accidentally transferred north.[5]

His "Memoir" also proved instrumental in the development of the Fountain of Youth legend as an early mention of Juan Ponce de León looking for the healing waters in Florida, a detail almost inseparable from the myth today. Though Fontaneda did not believe the story, later historians were less incredulous.

See also


  1. Worth: 339
  2. Worth: 339-340
  3. Ferdinando: 213–214
  4. Worth: 340-341
  5. Milanich, Jerald T. 1995. Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1360-7 p. 40.
  • "Fontaneda's Memoir". Translation by Buckingham Smith, 1854. From keyshistory.org. Retrieved July 31, 2005.
  • Ferdinando, Peter (Fall 2010). "A Translation History of Fontaneda" (PDF). The Florida Historical Quarterly. 89 (2): 210–251 via Florida Historical Society.
  • Worth, John E. (January 1995). "Fontaneda Revisited: Five Descriptions of Sixteenth-Century Florida". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 73 (3): 339–352. JSTOR 30150454.
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